Tubb, Ernest (Dale)

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Tubb, Ernest (Dale)

Tubb, Ernest (Dale) , American country music singer, songwriter, and guitarist; b. Crisp, Tex., Feb. 9, 1914; d. Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 6,1984. One of the most popular country music performers of the 1940s and 1950s, Tubb deliberately evolved the style of Jimmie Rodgers into a more modern sound, fostering the development of what had been called “hillbilly” music into “country and western.” Introducing the electric guitar into country, he performed in a hard-edged honky-tonk style that influenced such successors as Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Waylon Jennings. He had more than 90 records on the country charts between 1944 and 1979, the biggest hits including “Walking the Floor Over You,” “Soldier’s Last Letter,” and “It’s Been So Long Darling.”

Tubb’s father, Calvin Robert Tubb, was a sharecropper; his mother, Sarah Ellen Baker Tubb, played piano and organ. The family moved around Tex. when Tubb was a child. His schooling was minimal. During his teens he worked at menial jobs while living with his mother or his father, who had divorced, or with other family members. He developed an attachment to the music of Jimmie Rodgers and began to sing and play guitar in imitation of his hero. He made his radio debut in San Antonio, probably in late 1933. On May 26,1934, he married Lois Elaine Cook. They had three children, the oldest of whom, Justin Tubb, became a successful country singer. They were divorced in 1948.

Tubb contacted Rodgers’s widow, Carrie Rodgers, who encouraged him and became his sponsor. She arranged for his first recording session on Oct. 27,1936, for RCA Victor, Rodgers’s label, at which he recorded such songs as “The Passing of Jimmie Rodgers” and “The Last Thoughts of Jimmie Rodgers,” both of which were written by Elsie McWilliams, Carrie Rodgers’s sister. But these and subsequent recordings were unsuccessful, and Tubb struggled to achieve recognition over the next few years, performing on various radio stations in Tex. while supporting himself with jobs outside music.

Tubb got another chance to record, this time for Decca, beginning with a session on April 4, 1940. That fall he found steady, sponsored work on KGKO in Fort Worth. On April 26,1941, he recorded his breakthrough hit, “Walking the Floor Over You,” which he had written himself. Released during the summer, it reportedly sold over a million copies, enabling him to begin to tour beyond Tex. He went to Hollywood in July 1942 for a part in his first motion picture, Fighting Buckaroo,released in early 1943, and returned in November for a second film, Riding West,not released until May 1944. In January 1943 he first performed on the Grand Ole Opryradio show, and he joined the program as a regular the following month, moving to Tenn. He also performed on other shows on station WSM, which broadcasts the Opry.

Tubb reached the pop charts and the Top Ten of the country charts in January 1944 with the self-written “Try Me One More Time.” He made another film that month, Jamboree,which was released in March. Both sides of his next single, “Soldier’s Last Letter” (music and lyrics by Henry “Redd” Stewart) and “Yesterday’s Tears” (music and lyrics by Ernest Tubb), hit the Top Ten of the country charts and crossed over to the pop charts in the spring and summer; “Soldier’s Last Letter” hit #1 on the country charts in September. In 1945 he placed four songs in the Top Ten of the country charts, including “It’s Been So Long Darling” (music and lyrics by Ernest Tubb), which hit #1 in December. “Rainbow at Midnight” (music and lyrics by Arthur Q. Smith [real name, James Arthur Pritchett], though credited to Lost John Miller) became his third country chart-topper in January 1947, one of three Top Ten hits he released in 1946. He had three more Top Ten hits in 1947, the most successful of which was the self-penned “Don’t Look Now (But Your Broken Heart Is Showing).” That year he opened the Ernest Tubb Record Shop adjacent to the Ryman Auditorium, from where the Grand Ole Oprywas broadcast, and began a post-OprySaturday night radio series, Midnite Jamboree. He also made his final film appearance, a starring role in Hollywood Barn Dance,shot in March and released in July 1947.

Tubb had six songs in the country charts during 1948, the most notable of which were the Top Ten hits “Forever Is Ending Today” (music and lyrics by Ernest Tubb, Cyrus Whitfield “Johnny” Bond, and Ike Cargill), which crossed over to the pop charts, and a revival of the 1933 song “Have You Ever Been Lonely? (Have You Ever Been Blue)” (music by Peter DeRose, lyrics by Billy Hill). He had a remarkable 12 Top Ten country hits in release in 1949, the most successful of which were the chart-toppers “Slipping Around” (music and lyrics by Floyd Tillman) and “Blue Christmas” (music and lyrics by Billy Hayes and Jay Johnson), which also made the pop charts. Two records made with other artists also hit the top: “I’m Biting My Fingernails and Thinking of You” (music and lyrics by Ernest Tubb, Roy West, Ernest Benedict, and Lenny Sanders) with the Andrews Sisters (another crossover to the pop charts), and “Tennessee Border No. 2” (music by Jimmy Work, lyrics by Henry D. “Homer” Haynes and Kenneth C. “Jethro” Burns) with Red Foley.

On June 3,1949, Tubb married Olene Adams Carter. They had five children and their marriage lasted 26 years, ending in a legal separation in 1975, though they never formally divorced.

Tubb charted another 12 country Top Ten hits in 1950, the most successful of which were his #1 duet with Red Foley, “Goodnight Irene” (music and lyrics by Lead Belly), which crossed over to the Top Ten of the pop charts; “Letters Have No Arms” (music and lyrics by Archie Gibson and Ernest Tubb); and “I Love You Because” (music and lyrics by Leon Payne). His commercial success on records fell off gradually during the rest of the 1950s, although he managed to score another 16 Top Ten country hits through the end of the decade, notably “Too Old to Cut the Mustard” (music and lyrics by Bill Carlisle), another duet with Red Foley, “Missing in Action” (music and lyrics by Helen Kaye and Arthur Q. Smith), and “Fortunes in Memories” (music and lyrics by Charlie Walker and Lou Wayne), all released in 1952. He and his son Justin, who had joined the Grand Ole Opry,appeared as regulars on monthly broadcasts of a television version of the show from October 1955 to September 1956.

Tubb continued to tour extensively and to perform regularly on the Grand Ole Opryuntil 1982. From 1965 to 1968 he had a syndicated television series, The Ernest Tubb Show. He returned to the Top Ten of the country charts with the single “Thanks a Lot” (music and lyrics by Don Sessions and Eddie Miller) in 1963 and a “Thanks a Lot” LP in 1964. He had two country Top Ten albums in 1967, Another Storyand Singin´ Again,the latter a duet LP with Loretta Lynn. He left MCA Records, which had acquired Decca, after 1975, but he returned to the country Top Ten in 1979 with the album Ernest Tubb: The Legend and the Legacy, Vol. One,on Cachet Records, a disc featuring rerecordings of his hits with such guest stars as Willie Nelson, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Merle Haggard, and Conway Twitty. He appeared as himself in the 1980 film biography of Loretta Lynn, Coal Miner’s Daughter.

In declining health, Tubb gave his last concert on Nov. 13,1982. His final recording was as a guest vocalist on Hank Williams Jr´/s Top Ten country hit “Leave Them Boys Alone” (music and lyrics by Dean Dillon, Hank Williams Jr., Gary Stewart, and Tanya Tucker) in 1983. He died of emphysema at 70 in 1984.


Country Music Hall of Fame (ree. 1940-60s; rei. 1991); Live 1965 (rei. 1989); Guests (ree. 1978-79; rei. 1989).


N. Barthel, E. T Discography, 1936-1969 (Roland, Okla., 1970); N. Barthel, E. T.: The Original E. T.(Roland, Okla., 1984); R. Pugh, E. T: The Texas Troubadour (Durham, N.C., 1996).

—William Ruhlmann